Read Colossians 4:12-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings” (Philemon 23)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 289: Epaphras. When one thinks of Paul, he almost always seen as a giant. I mean, he wrote or had attributed to him thirteen out of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Out of those thirteen, he definitely wrote seven of them, though I personally believe he wrote eight or nine of them, and he even had a book written about mostly him and his missionary journeys. Also, there are other letters he mentioned that he wrote, but are lost to us today. So, yeah, Paul was a theological and missionary giant. He planted churches such as the one in Corinth and he left behind a legacy that has endured nearly two millenia! That’s quite an accomplishment from this Jewish Pharisee turned apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.
With that said, while Paul was certainly an important, giant-like figure in Christian history, he was not the sole missionary maverick that people often wrongly imagine. Paul was a brilliant networker. He was not the only one setting up mission fields and planting church. There were a bunch of people who were doing so, many of whom, Paul was networked with. Epaphras is one of those people.
Colossians is one of the disputed letters of Paul. What I mean by this is that half of the scholars believe Paul wrote it, and half do not. I am with N. T. Wright on his assessment that Colossians is authentically Pauline. I view Colossians as one of Paul’s authentic letters and find the evidence presented to fall more convincingly on the side of authenticity.
In this letter, Paul sent greetings from a co-worker of his called Epaphras. Paul also mentioned this co-worker’s name in his letter to Philemon. According to Paul in Colossians 1:7, Epaphras (pronounced Epa‘phras) was the one who taught the Colossians the good news and planted the church there. He was their planter and their pastor. Paul knew of the church there because of his friend and colleague Ephaphras, and was writing to them because Epaphras had no doubt reported to Paul of the struggles going on within the community.
Paul acknowledged that he had never been to that community in Colossae in. He opened his letter acknowledging that Epahpras had told him of the “love of others that the Holy Spirit had given” that faithful church community (1:7). They were a loving church and, upon hearing of their struggle with false teachers, Paul wanted them to know “how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally” (2:1).
The focus of this devotion is on the fact that Christians are not meant to be islands unto themselves. What made Paul the giant that he is was the fact that he knew it was not about him; it was about Jesus Christ. Paul networked with people, and gave credit where credit was due. Epaphras and others did the same. They looked to one another for prayer, support, and help. They stuck by one another so that they were not alone in their endeavors.
This is the heart of Christianity, sisters and brothers. We are all called into mission and ministry by our Lord Jesus Christ. Each of us have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit to be used to preach the good news to the world around us. None of us is expected by Christ to go it alone, and Christ does not wish for anyone to be free from doing the work we are all tasked to do. No one is called to be a beast of burden and no one is called to be a freeloader. Everyone has their part to play.
In the church today, we are so good at dumping the load of the work on a few while others do absolutely nothing to contribute. We are good at enslaving beasts of burden for the ease and comfort of the freeloaders. This may sound harsh, but the reality is harsher. The current state of the church is a direct result of this and other harsh realities. Epaphras, Paul and all of the earliest Christians in the New Testament remind and challenge us to be cooperative in ministry and unified in the mission of Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us grow to live up to that challenge.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us.” – The Apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Lord, inspire and motivate me to lead by example, to contribute to your church, and to lead others to do the same. Amen.